As Nova Scotia’s police watchdog continues to investigate the deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history, pressure is mounting on the province’s premier to commit to a public inquiry.
The horrific attack between April 18 and 19 left 23 people dead, including the shooter. Without the perpetrator’s testimony, experts say an inquiry may be the only way to get the answers sought by victims’ families and the general public.
“From my perspective, it’s beyond question that there’s a compelling need for an inquiry into this complex range of events,” said Dalhousie University law professor Archie Kaiser on Saturday.
“It’s an unprecedented crime in Canadian history… it’s obvious results mean the public is going to require an earnest, thorough, independent examination.”
At his daily briefing on Friday, Premier Stephen McNeil fell short of promising to order an inquiry, but said he has asked Attorney General and Justice Minister Mark Furey to “look at what are the possibilities as he works with his national partners.”
A provincial public inquiry can be launched under either the Public Inquiries Act or the Fatality Investigations Act. Kaiser said the former may be more appropriate.
“I think that the issues involved in these crimes and the public response to them are so complicated, that the focus on death that’s mandated under the Fatality Investigations Act might not be broad enough,” Kaiser explained, “whereas the Public Inquiries Act permits virtually unlimited scope to the terms of reference.”
The federal government could also dig for answers using the Labour Code, as it did in the 2014 shooting in Moncton, N.B., which left three RCMP officers dead and two severely injured.
Such an inquiry, however, would have a different focus from a provincial public inquiry, said police historian and University of New Brunswick history professor Gregory Marquis.
“Were the RCMP in Nova Scotia properly equipped, trained and supervised?” he asked. “If not, it’s possible there could be an investigation and possible charges. It’s just another possibility.”
A public inquiry could delve into questions including whether there were warning signs that the shooter would commit violence, whether there was a gendered component to that violence, and how he acquired the uniform, guns and weapons.
It could also delve into police practices and preparedness and whether the families of the victims were adequately supported after the event.
Inquiries cannot technically assign blame, but they do make recommendations on how to improve in the future.
“I think it would be a good idea, because this is a complex issue regarding potentially future policy-making,” said Rhonda MacLellan, a close friend of Joanne Thomas and John Zahl, whose home was burned down in the rampage.
“It’s good to know, in my opinion, so you cannot move forward until you know the truth.”
Alec Gratto, brother of Jamie Blair, who was killed along with her husband Greg Blair, said he’d like to find out as much as possible about how the killer was able to carry out the attack.
“I’d enjoy the answers honestly, if not for myself then just to know,” he told Global News, the afternoon afternoon the RCMP released a timeline of the incident. He was not, however, commenting on the possibility of an inquiry.
He added at the time that he thought the RCMP “in the heat of the moment,” did “everything they can to try and stop the situation.”
Kaiser said it would take time for the province to create the terms of reference for a public inquiry, but there’s no reason McNeil couldn’t commit to one now in order to soothe the public.
An online book of condolences for the victims of the shooting is available on the provincial government’s website.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 10 a.m. AST to add context and clarity to comments from victim’s family member.